There are a few exercises that many gym-goers unknowingly cut corners on. Back exercises are, in my professional opinion, the most important category of exercise to do properly in this age where we sometimes, well, age... for a long, long time. To both save your joints and spine and to get the maximum “burn” and strength gain your muscles can handle, read on! Here are the back exercises in the gym that I see are most often done incorrectly, or below maximum efficiency.
The Lat Pull-Down
The first time I did this exercise correctly, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of back engagement. A lat pull-down is an exercise done with a straight bar or two handles attached to a weighted pulley machine. It mimics the motion of a chin-up, and so gets you on the path to doing one (or doing more!). The lats are two muscles that basically look like wings on your mid-to-lower back. They attach to your spine and wrap around your sides. Sometimes the exercise is done on a sit-down machine, but my favourite (advanced) version is that of kneeling on a Bosu ball and using independent handles on the pulley machine. Here are the steps to maximum mid-to-lower-back engagement.
1.) Sit tall, and roll your shoulders back before even touching the weight.
2.) Reach up and grab the bar or handles. Gripping the weights, make sure to set your shoulder blades or scapulae back. You can achieve this by imagining squeezing a dime into the middle of your back with your shoulder blades.
3.) Once your shoulder blades are retracted together and down, and you have as much space as possible between your shoulders and ears, pull the weights or bar down with your elbows wide.
4.) Do NOT pull the straight bar behind your neck, as this can cause injury.
5.) Keep your spine straight and shoulders down as you pull the bar or weights down to collarbone height, and return to the starting position.
6.) Do not let go of this scapular engagement! DO NOT LET GO, I SAY!!
7.) Complete 10 to 12 reps of 3 sets. By 8 or 10 you should be exhausted. Then do two more!
The Bent-over Row
This exercise is great for sculpting the upper back. It has been my best friend for years. You will hit primarily the mid and lower trapezius muscles that run from your neck to your shoulders, your rear deltoids (shoulders) and the rhomboid muscles which are close to your spine. Once you are strong enough for heavier weight, you will also feel biceps and forearms.
1.) Sit tall, and roll your shoulders back before even touching the bar weight or dumbbells.
2.) Bend down like you are sitting on a chair to pick up the weight (this goes for picking up anything heavy). If it is a bar weight, your hands should be gripping from the top, just slightly wider than your hips. You can reach over the bar to grip which targets your forearms, or under the bar to grip in order to involve more of your biceps.
3.) Keep your back straight and use your legs to straighten up to standing.
4.) Shift your weight into your heels and sit back again as if into a chair, into a half-squat. You should be leaning forward at a 45-degree angle, with the weight held near your knees.
5.) Roll the shoulders back once more, and set your shoulder blades into the retracted position as discussed above.
6.) START the movement. Pull your elbows directly backwards as if they are hugging your ribs, while thinking about pushing your chest forward through your shoulder blades.
7.) Make sure you have a straight back from the base of your head to the base of your spine.
8.) Return the bar to your knee height position. Again, do not let go of the scapular retraction!
9.) Complete 10 to 12 reps of 3 sets.
Enjoy the burn! And the delightful muscular soreness the next day. If you have more questions about specific exercise or workout plans, do not hesitate to drop me a line!